JIN-358 -- Is Japan Safe?

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News

Issue No. 358
Wednesday March 1, 2006 TOKYO

+++ VIEWPOINT: Is Japan Safe?

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Time: 6:30 Doors open, buffet dinner included
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+++ VIEWPOINT: Is Japan Safe?

Debate of the pros and cons of life in Japan often takes
the form of tit-for-tat bromides.

"Japan is expensive," says the basher.

"Yes, but things work," I retort. "You can set your watch by
the arrival of the train, fast-cut barbers clip your hair in 10
minutes, package labeling facilitates sorting of waste into
bins for burnable and nonburnable materials."

"Japan is crowded."

"Yes, but Japanese service is nonpareil. Cabbies wear white
gloves, shopkeepers shout 'Welcome,' svelte elevator girls,
in costumes straight from a Busby Berkeley musical, ask your

"Japan is polluted. "

"Yes, but it's safe."

"Oh, really?" says the basher with arched eyebrows.

He thinks he has me. It's true nowadays that garbage sits in
see-through bins at Japan Railway stations; I purchase a
Toyoko Line ticket at a machine in Shibuya Station and a small
mirror lets me watch my back as I slot the coins; I get off
the train at the other terminus, and an electronic bulletin
board asks me to report suspicious objects; and I find at the
bottom of a bagful of Christmas gifts a sheet of pink paper
entitled "An Urgent Appeal to Keep Children Safe." Its
opening paragraph explains the reason for the appeal:

"There have occurred successive painful incidents of first-grade
girls being killed on the way home from school in Hiroshima City,
Hiroshima Prefecture, and Imaichi, Tochigi Prefecture. These
incidents have instilled fear in parents of small children even
in [distant] Kanagawa Prefecture."

What can parents do? The flip side of the broadsheet advises:
- Explain to children they should go to and from schools in
groups and take the safest route.
- Especially ensure that children in the lower grades of
elementary school are never alone.
- Explain to children that they should not go with strangers
- Call the police or school with regard to suspicious persons
or things.

A confluence of factors has engendered the above crime-buster
innovations. The Japanese psyche never fully recovered from
Aum Shinrikyo's terrorism in the late 1980s and early' 90s.
People never felt as safe again. But Aum was homegrown
demonism addressable by legislation and greater vigilance. Then
came 9/11 and confirmation of what Japanese guidebooks
and weeklies and newspapers had been saying all along: the
outside world's a dangerous place. The globetrotting Japanese
began spending vacations at home. But the government dispatched
the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq, and Japan appeared on
Al-Qaeda's hit list. Late last year the two first-graders
were killed, and the nation breathed a collective sigh of
despair. Then on February 17 a mother killed two children
while driving them and her daughter to kindergarten in
Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture, and the Japanese asked themselves,
"Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" (Who is to guard the

The broadsheet in the Christmas satchel ends with a call for
people living in school neighborhoods to cooperate in
securing the safety of children.

I have answered the call. I dutifully walk the dog with a
plastic-encased "On Patrol" sign dangling from her collar.

"Mirai," an Airedale -- which is to say, she resembles a
tan-and-black stuffed animal -- shoes away cats and not much
else. But in tandem at the opposite ends of the lead we are
perhaps a formidable six-legged synergy.

We must take our walk; nature must be relieved. Still, I
wonder about our ancillary role of securing park and byways for
kids' safety. Our sign elicits smiles from people who parse
the meaning of a cuddly animal on patrol, and I ask myself if
things have become so bad we must act as a K-9 deterrent.

According to the latest White Paper on Crime (Ministry of
Justice, 2004), the homicide rate (per 100,000 population) in
Japan was 1.2, compared with 3.5 in the UK (England and Wales
only), 4.1 in France, and 5.6 in the US. Japanese also
steal less often than people in other "major countries."
The rate of theft was 1,866 in Japan, 3,624 in the US, 3,937
in France, and 6,165 in the UK.

To the basher, I respond Japan is safe...comparatively.

-- Burritt Sabin

Correction: JIN No. 357 reported Dr. Wangari Maathai spoke at
Waseda University on February 20. The correct date is February

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Written by Willhemina Wahlin; edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)

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